Architect proposes Ruskin Historic District
By MELODY JAMESON
RUSKIN – Emphasizing its multiple economic benefits, an architect here is initiating efforts to designate portions of this 100-year-old community as a historic district.
Holly Swanson, a Ruskin resident for the last four years who practices with a Tampa architectural firm, pointed to the number of structures from Ruskin’s past still in use in the center of the community as she talked about the process and the results of creating a historic district formally designated on county, state and federal levels. “I think Ruskin is a perfect candidate for a historic district,” she noted, adding “it would help preserve the community’s priceless character while also bringing desirable economic benefits.”
Historic districts, whether on local or national levels, include buildings or properties or sites that are considered architecturally or archeologically significant, as well as non-historic structures, Swanson said. Such districts can vary radically in size, from encompassing hundreds of buildings to including a mere handful, she added. And, on the federal level, for example, their structures may be considered significant because they contributed to a broad pattern in history or because they exhibit distinctive design characteristics or because they are connected to individuals outstanding in the historic record or because they yield information important to history.
Actual, determined historic preservation dates back to 17th century England when it became fashionable to study and maintain things antiquarian, the architect said. America’s first historic preservation efforts were George Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh, New York, followed by Washington’s Mount Vernon estate named an American historic site in 1858. The first U.S. historic preservation ordinance was drafted in Charlotte, South Carolina, in 1930, she added, and the National Register of Historic Places was created by law in 1966.
Closer to home, Swanson noted that Florida has a network of several organizations focused on historic preservation up and down the peninsula and at the county level Hillsborough has an active historic site preservation board. Geographically, the nearest nationally designated historic district is the heart of old Ybor City, she added.
As for a Ruskin historic district, Swanson said she believes the first step should be taken toward the county board and in the form of letters of interest produced by property owners within the proposed district. The prospective district can be loosely defined and does not have to be contiguous, but logically would include such historic structures as the homes of the first Ruskin College leaders now occupied by Dr. Arthur “Mac” Miller and his family and by the Ruskin Women’s Club, plus the college arts and drama center recently restored by its owner, Conrad Peterson. There also are other buildings dating from the first college era now in use close to the downtown area as well as structures indicative of the community’s later history that could be included, the architect pointed out.
Swanson indicated she saw no reason a Ruskin Historic District could not be proposed eventually for state and national registries.
In terms of economic benefit, the architect said that historic districts underpin heritage tourism and heritage tourism continues to generate high dollar business nationally and in Florida. When a district becomes a focal point for the traveling tourist, not only do the stores and restaurants and hospitality facilities experience increased business, but the heightened activity can lead to more jobs, she noted. In addition, historic districts serve communities on a more focused scale, enabling fund-raising home tours , for instance, she said. What’s more, historic districts can play key roles in redevelopment efforts, she added
“And, most Realtors say that many property owners in a historic district exhibit an enhanced pride of ownership,” Swanson said.
There’s also another consideration in connection with a Ruskin Historic District, the architect allowed. Its namesake, John Ruskin, an English artist and critic, “is credited with establishing the basic theory of preservation.”
Swanson said she plans in forthcoming weeks to contact home and property owners in the pertinent area to survey their interest in supporting the historic district concept in Ruskin.
© 2010 Melody Jameson